A campaign to legalize psilocybin mushrooms for medical use in Oregon is facing pushback from activists over an amended ballot measure’s omission of earlier provisions that would have reduced criminal penalties associated with the psychedelic fungus.
The Oregon Psilocybin Society (OPS) originally filed a proposed initiative that called for reducing penalties for possession, cultivation and delivery of psilocybin for adults in addition to establishing a therapeutic model for the substance’s legal use in a medically supervised environment. But after hearing from political advisors and funders, the group said it decided to scrap the non-medical reform aspect.
Part of the rationale was that OPS heard that the Drug Policy Alliance (DPA) is planning to introduce more sweeping drug decriminalization measures in several states including Oregon.
“We support their powerful vision of addressing drug use through a health approach instead of treating it as a criminal problem,” OPS said in an email blast describing the rationale for the revisions. “So, we made up our minds. Rather than duplicate the same effort as DPA, we would produce a new and improved bill to legalize psilocybin assisted therapy and drop the decriminalization aspect.”
But that decision has nonetheless drawn criticism from other psychedelics activists.
Shortly after the state attorney general proposed a draft ballot title for the newly revised measure, which is required after organizers collect a certain number of signatures, Decriminalize Nature Portland (DNP) and a political action committee called the Mushroom PAC released a statement condemning OPS’s changes.
The groups said in an email newsletter and in comments submitted to the attorney general that OPS “abandoned their original intentions to pass statewide decriminalization in addition to a statewide therapy model” and added a section that “explicitly criminalizes non-therapeutic use” of psilocybin,” which they characterized as a “flip-flop in direction.”
“In changing course, they have not only betrayed the people who gave money to their group based on a lie of decriminalization, but they have abandoned the thousands of Oregonians who will not be able to afford access to therapeutic-only psychedelic medicine,” DNP and the Mushroom PAC wrote.
The groups alleged that OPS founders “sold out their ideals in order to get ahead” by revising their initiative to create an automatic, two-year placement on a compensated advisory board and also criminalizing outdoor personal cultivation. They questioned whether the latter provision was added because, they wrote, one of OPS’s $1,000+ donors “owns patents on indoor growing equipment.”
“There are three key reasons why these changes deserve to be critiqued: the bill is now worse for people of color, it is worse for the poor, and it is worse for civil liberty and personal freedom,” the groups alleged.
Because OPS dropped the criminal penalty reform provisions and specified there would be consequences for unsanctioned cultivation and use, DNP and Mushroom PAC argued that people of color would be disproportionately targeted for enforcement, as occurs for a multitude of crimes.
“And finally, the bill is now worse for every single Oregonian from the standpoint of civil liberties and cognitive liberty. It is no longer a combined decriminalization/therapy effort that would have created the freedom for each free-thinking person to decide how to pursue this natural medicine in relation to their health—it is now a therapy-only effort that restricts decisions about freedom to the medical system, the Oregon Health Authority, and board representatives.”
Two medical professionals expressed similar reservations via a public comment period after the attorney general proposed the draft ballot title.
“I no longer support the current initiative in its form as it has veered a significant distance from its original orientation,” psychologist Jeff Tarrant wrote. “The vast majority of people supporting the initiative, supported it in its original version.”
“Many of those people are not even aware that it has been altered significantly. I am not alone in my disappointment of the direction this has taken,” he said. “Again, it is my firm belief that many/most of the people originally supporting this initiative did so with the understanding that this would be supporting decriminalization.”
OPS released a campaign update to supporters the day after DNP and Mushroom PAC published their criticism. The group’s statement sought to “clarify where we are, and how we got here” and offered an explanation about the thinking behind removing decriminalization from the measure.
“We wanted to put psychedelic therapy on solid ground—surrounded by safety, best practices, and ethical standards, yet decidedly outside of the pharma-driven medical system,” OPS founders Tom and Sheri Eckert wrote. “And we wanted to reduce penalties for possession of usable amounts of psilocybin.”
But as the campaign evolved, they were approved by the firm Emerge Law Group as well as executives from Dr. Bronner’s Magic Soaps who raised concerns about the initiative language and pledged to providing funding to OPS if certain changes were made.
“Their points were valid and important, perhaps vital for long term success. But the thought of revising the language was hard to digest. It would mean starting the process over, including ballot titling and signature gathering. We were resistant.”
“With the clock ticking, and a potential rewrite in the works, we conveyed that we’d need some assurances of financial support to help knock out the required 112,200 valid petition signatures on time. David provided those assurances,” OPS wrote, referring to the Dr. Bronner’s CEO and activist David Bronner.
OPS said it also consulted with Psychedelic Science Funders Collaborative Executive Director Graham Boyd, who has worked on political strategy and helped steer funding from the late Progressive insurance chairman Peter Lewis to marijuana reform efforts as well as previously serving as director of the ACLU’s Drug Law Reform Project.
Between feedback from those advisors and hearing that DPA would be working to get broader decriminalization approved in Oregon, the revised measure emerged. OPS emphasized that tweaks were made to ensure that “the new language makes it impossible for pharma and big corporations to overrun this emerging space.”
“We think that’s worth repeating over and over, because disinformation is so rampant right now, often perpetuated by otherwise psychedelic friendly folks,” the group wrote. “We get it—social media banter is confusing, often divorced from reality… and, perhaps not surprisingly, there is a dedicated disinformation campaign being waged against us.”
“But let’s be very clear about this. The way we talk about this initiative has real implications for the future of mental healthcare. This is not a game. The current system is broken, and real lives are at stake. If you carelessly perpetuate disinformation about the Oregon campaign, you are, wittingly or not, doing the work of those who would deny psilocybin assisted therapy to those who are suffering and are desperately in need of help.”
The group listed other changes that were made following consultation with advisors.
[O]ver the course of a couple months, we drafted the most complete and dialed-in revision imaginable to legalize psilocybin therapy – a unique, world-class document. Much of the content reflects the earlier version, only cleaner, including:
—A framework for accessing psilocybin services
—Safety, practice, and ethical standards
—Services open to anyone who is not medically contraindicated
—An affordable, community-based framework outside the medical / pharma system
—Trained and competent facilitators (without requiring previous credentialing)
—Use of organic materials (mushrooms), not just synthetic psilocybin
Other inclusions were either new or augmented the previous provisions, while addressing a variety of concerns from the community. Some new highlights include:
—A strengthened Advisory Board, with directives to work with state and federal officials to create an environment of cooperation
—An extended development period so that the OHA can successfully roll out the program
—Prohibition of cannabis-style branding and marketing of psilocybin products
—Iron-clad protections against big corporate influences, including limiting business entities to a single production facility of limited size, or maximum five service centers (no big chains)
These revisions make the measure “vastly stronger,” OPS argued, because it “better protects the original spirit of the initiative.”
Paul Stamets, a mycologist well-known in the psychedelics community for his advocacy for the use of fungi in medicine, called the new initiative a “massive improvement,” OPS said.
“The truth is, this campaign is philosophically sound and very much on track, with firepower behind it… and for good reason,” they wrote, adding that OPS plans to hire management and other “key positions” as it seeks out a consulting firm to aid in signature gathering.
OPS also sought changes to the attorney general’s draft ballot language, urging the official to revise the title so that there are tight restrictions and to ensure that psilocybin would only be able to be consumed in a licensed facility.
While the debate over the revised language could pose problems for the Oregon campaign as it seeks to qualify and then pass their measure, it also reflects the growing enthusiasm and organization of the psilocybin decriminalization movement, which has scored historic victories in Denver and Oakland so far this year and has plans to push a statewide decriminalization measure in California in 2020.
Photo courtesy of Wikimedia/Workman.
Connecticut Governor Says He’s Open To Smoking Marijuana After He Signs Legalization Bill
The governor of Connecticut said on Friday that he isn’t ruling out smoking marijuana after he formally signs a legalization bill into law next week.
While most top politicians might still demure when asked if they’d partake in cannabis given ongoing stigma and federal prohibition, Gov. Ned Lamont (D) said matter-of-factly that “time will tell” when asked by a reporter if people can “expect to see the governor smoking a joint” after legalization goes into effect in the state.
News 12’s John Craven replied incredulously, “Really? You’re open to it?”
LIGHT IT UP?: Will we see @GovNedLamont partake in newly legal marijuana?
Check out his answer: pic.twitter.com/XVP3d5fDNi
— John Craven (@johncraven1) June 18, 2021
The governor first shrugged, then nodded his head yes.
“Not right now, but we’ll see” Lamont said.
Other governors in legal states have been playful about cannabis culture and their own relationship to the plant. But while a growing number of lawmakers are comfortable discussing their past marijuana use, this is a fairly remarkable exchange for the sitting top executive officer of a state.
It’s also a sign of the times, as congressional lawmakers step up the push to end federal prohibition and legalization bills move through numerous state legislatures.
Connecticut lawmakers sent Lamont an adult-use legalization bill on Thursday, and he’s confirmed his intent to sign it into law. It would make the state the 19th to have enacted the policy change and the fourth this year alone.
And while the governor has consistently emphasized the important of social equity in legalization legislation—at one point threatening to veto the bill because of a provision he felt could undermine its intent to effectively stand up disparately impacted communities—he also seems to see the personal benefits of the reform.
Similar to Lamont’s new comments, Washington Gov. Jay Inslee (D) raised some eyebrows in 2018 when he said in an interview that he grows cannabis himself. But then a spokesperson for his office denied that he actually personally cultivates marijuana.
Minnesota Marijuana Reform Could ‘Move Forward’ In Special Session That Just Launched, Top Lawmaker Says
Even though a Minnesota House-passed marijuana legalization bill died in the Senate without action by the end of this year’s regular session, a top lawmaker says there’s still a “possibility to move forward” on cannabis reform as part of a special session that began this week.
“Nobody really expected the medical program to be so successfully changed this year,” House Majority Leader Ryan Winkler (D) said at a rally with cannabis reform advocates on Wednesday, referencing a separate measure Gov. Tim Walz (D) signed last month that will allow patients to access smokable cannabis products.
According to The Star Tribune, Winkler added that “surprising things can happen” during a special session. “When you see Republican support and Democratic support in the House and Senate, there is a possibility to move forward.”
Photos from today’s emergency rally at the Capitol 📸
Thank you to House Majority Leader @_RyanWinkler, Sen. @ScottDibble, Rep. @jeremymunson, and Sen. @jimabeler for speaking and advocating for the decriminalization of cannabis in Minnesota. #mnisready for change! pic.twitter.com/c5T1ffqSuy
— Minnesotans for Responsible Marijuana Regulation (@mnisready) June 16, 2021
Advocates with Minnesota NORML are pushing for several specific policies to be incorporated into legislation that is set to be taken up by the legislature during the special session. The first is to expand the state’s decriminalization policy, and the second is to have the state petition for a federal exemption for Minnesota’s medical cannabis program.
Part of the motivation behind that latter proposal is to ensure that registered patients are able to lawfully purchase and possess firearms in spite of federal restrictions.
At the rally, which was organized by NORML, Republicans Against Marijuana Prohibition (RAMP) and other groups, Winkler and several other lawmakers spoke in favor of modest policy changes such as decriminalizing cannabis.
“Decriminalizing small amounts is important,” Rep. Jeremy Munson (R), one of only a handful of Republicans who voted for Winkler’s broad adult-use legalization bill, said at the rally. “If someone in Minnesota gets caught with two gummy bears, it’s a felony and they’ll lose their gun rights forever.”
The coalition proposed several key reforms that they say should be integrated into public safety and health legislation that’s currently moving through committee during the special session:
-Further reduce penalties for simple possession of marijuana.
-Allow people convicted of possession up to eight grams of cannabis to petition the courts for expungement.
-Require the Minnesota health commissioner to petition the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) for an exemption for its medical marijuana program.
”Reducing or eliminating the criminal penalties we’re seeing around marijuana is where we have consensus,” Thomas Gallagher of RAMP said in a press release. “Let’s focus on the people who have small quantities. There is injustice in a trivial amount of marijuana resulting in life-changing punishments like imprisonment, criminal records, and lost jobs and kids.”
Rally for Our Special Session Agenda:
1. Decrim law reform: reduce penalties for concentrates & ensure a petty is not a crime in fed court.
2. Medical reform: Require Minn to petition for a fed exemption fr Schedule 1 for Minn's Med Cannabis patients.https://t.co/9S8Vwz4yoB
— Minnesota NORML (@MNNORML) June 15, 2021
Similar to the Minnesota activists’ call, Iowa officials have requested that federal agencies guarantee some level of protection for people participating in the state’s medical marijuana program.
The Hawaii legislature adopted a resolution in April seeking an exemption from DEA stipulating that the state is permitted to run its medical cannabis program without federal interference.
Back in Minnesota, the House approved a bill last month to legalize marijuana for recreational use following 12 committee assignments. That legislation stalled in the GOP-controlled Senate, however.
Advocates are hopeful about the possibility that further cannabis reforms could be accomplished in the special session, but they see an obstacle in Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka (R), who has been relatively silent on the issue since the end of the regular session.
He did previously say, however, that “we’re always said we were open to lowering the criminal penalties [for marijuana].”
The decriminalization legislation that advocates are rallying behind would make possession of up to eight grams of cannabis a petty misdemeanor. It would also make people with prior convictions for that level of possession eligible for expungements.
Under the separate medical cannabis expansion bill that the governor has signed, adults 21 and older will be able to access smokable marijuana products. That policy must take effect by March 1, 2022, or earlier if rules are developed and the state’s cannabis commissioner authorizes it.
Dispensaries could also provide a curbside pickup option for patients under the new law. It further removes restrictions for designated caregivers and allows them to tend to six registered patients at once, rather than just one.
Walz, who hadn’t been especially vocal about legalization as the broader legislation advanced during the regulator session, said, “I’ve thought for a long time about that,” adding that “we know that adults can make their own decisions on things, we know that criminalization and prohibition has not worked.”
“I’ve always thought that it makes sense to control how you’re doing this and to make sure that adults know what they’re getting into, and use it wisely,” he said. “I also think there’s a lot of inequity about how folks have spent time in jail or been arrested around this, especially in communities of color.”
The majority leader’s legalization legislation as introduced was identical to a proposal he filed last year, with some minor technical changes. Winkler, who led a statewide listening to gather public input ahead of the measure’s introduction, called it the “best legalization bill in the country” at the time. It did not advance in that session, however.
Under the measure, social equity would be prioritized, in part by ensuring diverse licensing and preventing the market from being monopolized by corporate players. Prior marijuana records would also be automatically expunged.
Walz in January he called on lawmakers to pursue the reform as a means to boost the economy and promote racial justice. He did not include a request to legalize through his budget proposal, however.
The governor did say in 2019 that he was directing state agencies to prepare to implement reform in anticipation of legalization passing.
Winkler, meanwhile, said in December that if Senate Republicans don’t go along with the policy change legislatively, he said he hopes they will at least let voters decide on cannabis as a 2022 ballot measure.
Heading into the 2020 election, Democrats believed they had a shot of taking control of the Senate, but that didn’t happen. The result appears to be partly due to the fact that candidates from marijuana-focused parties in the state earned a sizable share of votes that may have otherwise gone to Democrats, perhaps inadvertently hurting the chances of reform passing.
In December, the Minnesota House Select Committee On Racial Justice adopted a report that broadly details race-based disparities in criminal enforcement and recommends a series of policy changes, including marijuana decriminalization and expungements.
Photo courtesy of Mike Latimer.
Maine Lawmakers Approve Bill To Decriminalize All Drugs On 50th Anniversary Of Nixon’s ‘War On Drugs’
The Maine House of Representatives on Thursday approved a bill to decriminalize possession of all currently illicit drugs, delivering a victory to reform advocates on the 50th anniversary of President Richard Nixon’s declaration of the war on drugs.
The Senate also began consideration of the legislation on Thursday, but has not yet taken a vote.
The proposal, LD 967, was approved in 77-62 vote in the House. It would make possession of controlled substances for personal use punishable by a $100 fine, without the threat of incarceration. That fine could also be waived if a person completes a substance misuse assessment within 45 days of being cited.
“We are continually trying to criminalize a symptom of a disease. It hasn’t worked. It won’t work,” Rep. Charlotte Warren (D), who serves as the House chair of the legislature’s Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee, said before the vote. “We have tried criminalizing this disease for decades, and 11 Mainers a week are dying.”
Rep. Anne Perry (D), sponsor of the bill, said that incarcerating people who are suffering from addiction “only proves to them that they are as bad as they think they are” and perpetuates the cycle of substance misuse. “Law enforcement is not the gateway to treatment and recovery. It’s a gateway to isolation and suicide.”
The measure’s passage flies in the face of Gov. Janet Mills (D), whose administration opposes the reform, as does the state attorney general. Coupled with opposition from Republican legislators, the bill faces an uphill battle to final passage.
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The Senate also began consideration of the legislation on Thursday night, adopting a different committee report than the House approved, but setting it aside as unfinished business before taking a final vote on the bill. The version moving forward in that chamber would similarly impose a $100 fine for possession, but only for the first two offenses. Subsequent offenses would be considered Class E crimes that could carry jail time.
These actions come one month after a joint House and Senate committee advanced the decriminalization bill with several conflicting recommendations, as well as another measure to reform the state’s drug trafficking laws.
Supporters of the legislation include the American Academy of Pediatrics’s Maine Chapter, Maine Medical Association, Alliance for Addiction and Mental Health Services in Maine and Maine Council of Churches.
Thursday’s decriminalization vote represents a continuation of a national conversation about the need to reform laws criminalizing people over drugs and treat substance misuse as a public health issue, rather than a criminal justice matter.
For the first time ever, a congressional bill to federally decriminalize possession of controlled substances—and incentivize states to do the same—was formally introduced on Thursday.
Last year, Oregon voters elected to end criminalization of low-level drug possession at the ballot.
Vermont lawmakers also introduced a bill in March that would end criminal penalties for possessing small amounts of drugs in the state.
Also that month, a Rhode Island Senate committee held a hearing on decriminalization legislation to replace criminal penalties for possessing small amounts of drugs with a $100 fine.
Back in Maine, a bill was recently introduced that would legalize psilocybin mushrooms for therapeutic purposes.